My Drought Tolerant Corner

Its tough to get a sense of privacy in the cramped suburbs nowadays, and my parent's house is no exception.  That all too close wall is our neighbor's, but luckily they're good neighbors and have a nice and varied planting along their wall.  On my side I took advantage of the better drainage (compared to the backyard) and planted Mediterranean fan palms, giant yucca, cordyline australis, a fig tree and some others.  Here's the rundown.

Dyckias are ideal for dry and sunny areas like medians or open areas at the front of your lawn, so long as you give these clumpers room to grow.  (They don't mind a little shade though, and respond well to watering.)  My Dyckia "Red Planet" will eventually grow to a size that local dogs won't trifle with, but for now the other spiky plants help.  Note the backwards and forwards pointing hooks!  There are other terrestrial bromeliads like puya that use these hooks to snare small mammals, making them pseudo-carnivorous plants since they indirectly feed off the remains.  I had to remove a leaf from the crown for this shot, and yes it was painful.

Ficus Carica, or fig trees are supposedly popular in Florida, but I've only seen one plant in the Jacksonville area so far.  I chose to plant it for its fruit, of course, but also because I can prune it to have a light and open canopy, perfect for the plants below.  Pruning this way is also great for fruit production, as it provides better air circulation, a must for our humid swamp front site, or anywhere in Florida for that matter.  By thinning out the branches I'm also thinning out the fruit, making individual fruits plumper!  This fig will eventually replace the infamous "crape murdered" crape myrtle, but I'll leave it a bit longer until the fig and other plants fill in.

Cordyline Australis has nice chocolate brown foliage that pairs nicely with my dyckia, and contrasts with the chartreuse gold sedum in the background.  Although hardy to zone 8, mine had some damage this winter, as it was an exceptionally cold one.  This is why they are a great alternative to the more popular ti plants, which all died back to the ground in my garden this year.  Most of the time you can find them labeled as "red sensation" or "red spike" in their youth and ready as focal points in container groupings.  Most people end up throwing them out with the spent annuals and perennials, but let it grow long enough and it will become a tree!  Mine is about waist height right now, and you can get an idea for its size in the first photo.

Agave-desmettiana 'Variegata'  is displaying a glaucous coating on its leaves, highlighing its leaf scars much like the dyckias.  I got this one after our awful freezes, so I can't tel you from personal experiece how it does in the cold, but I have seen an old and overgrown patch with what looked like hundreds in a neglected yard here in Jacksonville.  Luckily its so small that those of you in colder areas can even grow it in a container and take it indoors in frosts!  Okay, maybe a large container, but you get the idea.  Its smaller than the more common variegated agave, and has a more graceful and architectural tight rosette than its untidy cousin. Even though its spineless along the lengths of the leaves, the terminal spines are still pointy!  I leaned down to pull a weed and almost put my eye out!

Purple heart gets a bad rap for being too gaudy and clashing with the more subtle colors in the garden, but any painter will tell you that intense cool colors like this are the bees knees for creating depth and richness in a composition.  I am a painter, and appreciate how the blacklight purple pops against the greens, punching out shadows and creating the illusion of space.  Purple is the perfect complement to bright green, just look at any color wheel!  

Other Florida bloggers know just how great the Gold Sedum is, an I eventually had to plant some myself.  And yes, it really is that cool.  Like a carpet of lime green moss, or those plants in the aquarium, it adds a certain lush quality to the drought tolerant landscape, and even has little yellow flowers!  I just love chartreuse plants!

I also have some society garlic around the perimeter, whose lavender flowers not only match the purple heart's flowers, but are edible too!  You can add them as a garnish to meals or toss in with your salads, maybe with some nasturtium flowers for a peppery garlic kick!

In the first photo you can see the Mediterranean fan palm, which is great for a drought tolerant landscape!  They have a nice clumping habit and can be used as a privacy buffer, which is exactly what I'm doing in my garden. I'll probably prune out some of the trunks as it gets older for the same reason that I'm thinning out my fig tree, for air circulation and to let more light in the understory.

Not shown is my Giant yucca, which is actually pretty small right now.  It was small to begin with, but the growing point got nipped by the cold.  No worries though, its resprouted in 5 places up its little trunk and I'll just train it as a multitrunked specimen.  Like the cordyline, this plant is special because its a monocot (related to lilies, gingers, amaryllis, etc.) that develops a corky fissured trunk and becomes a full blown tree!  I used to see it a lot in Southern California as a kid, and as far as I'm concerned its the next best thing to a Joshua tree.


  1. I am so jealous that you can grow these beauties in the ground. I do have an Agave-desmettiana 'Variegata'...and in fact it's my oldest agave, a gift from my AZ brother. In a container it has been "planted up' larger container) 3 times now. I love it. I hope yours rewards you with lots of growth and many little pups.

  2. Hm, I thought I was already 'following' you. I guess I wasn't lol.

    Dyckias, eh? I'm so unlucky I'm sure I'd trip and fall face first into it. No thorny (and thorny is an understatement for that thing) plants in my garden!

  3. Hi! I found your blog when you posted on my blog. WOWZA! What a beautiful and informative blog. I lost most of my morning here. lol. Glad to meet ya!

  4. Love that red cordyline! I don't see many figs either, though I see them a lot at the garden center. My son planted one last year, but wow, was it cut back by the freeze! It's returning from the ground now. My neighbors have the spineless yucca. It is enormous, with multiple trunks. I'm not typically a fan of yucca, but that specimen is stunning.

  5. I really like the arrangement of your corner plantings. I didn't know the red cordyline was more cold tolerant than the ti plants. Sure hope I can remember that nugget of info next time I come across some to buy. I have a fig tree in a big pot that I think I'm going to have to find room for in the ground somewhere. It came through the cold weather fine but the squirrels got the one fig that popped out this spring. Good luck with yours and I hope you get lots of fruit.

  6. I am putting the Dyckias in the must have list, it would make a great addition to my bromeliad collection, thanks for the information

  7. danger garden:
    I'm glad you have one too! By the way, do you know if the powdery coating is normal?

    Yeah, you probably would fall face first and then write a hilarious post about it. Thanks for following me!

    Thats so kind of you to say! I look forward to keeping up with the adventures on your blog, as I have to live vicariously now that we've already maxed out our space for furniture. Thank you IKEA!

    Hmmm, it died back even where you live? thats not good, since my first one was tiny and died too, but it was weakened by its wet soil. I'll probably wrap it with straw or something like they do up north then, just in case! By the way, my yucca's other common name is "spineless" yucca and hopefully mine will look like your neighbor's someday!

    I'll probably wrap the trunk this first winter just in case! I also read that you can cover the figs with bags, but I would rather just see the fruit, even if it does get swiped.

    I got mine at "tropical world" in Boynton beach for $5 so be sure to pick one up next time you're in the area! They also have the second largest collection of broms I've seen, next to Tropiflora anyways...

  8. Steve, your drought tolerant garden is beautiful! Great post, especially during our dry "rainy season". I have this the ground two years now, and still not shrub size yet. It does produce lovely fruit, but I thought it would be a faster grower. Maybe it's the location?!
    I also like the purple queen...have some in my garden too. The color of this plant as well as the cordyline are fantastic...I love these deep shades.
    The agave and yucca also grace my landscape. Pretty and easy!
    Great post!


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